In the end, it wasn’t even close. There is no way that Jeremy Corbyn can spin this as a victory in all but name. There is no ‘one last heave’ here. The Conservative Party has a majority – a big one, by modern standards – and our cycle of biannual elections looks to have been broken, finally. For better or for worse, Britain has a functioning Government again.
So what happens now? Boris appears to have decided not to rock the boat too much until Brexit is passed. His Withdrawal Agreement will pass the Commons. We will leave – straight into transition, yes, but leave nonetheless – the EU on 31st January. A major reshuffle will wait till after that.
There is trouble down the track on the final trade deal, of course there is, but don’t let that looming difficulty somehow undermine or undercut the significance of what Boris has achieved. He is master and commander of the Conservative Party, he has probably the most loyal and united backbench in over a decade, he has gotten his way in his party and in the country. Gone are the Gaukeward squad. Gone is dependence on the DUP. Boris may not be in a perfect position, but any of his Tory predecessors as far back as Thatcher would have given their eye teeth for the advantages he now has. And he could go either way, now. If he is sensible and if he is focussed on tending to his new voters in the North East then this really will be a ‘One Nation’ Government. More money for trains and nurses and all that jazz. Nothing too silly on trade deals with Trump or financial deregulation. He has a big enough majority to spend the next five years pretending Mark Francois doesn’t exist and blocking his texts, if he wants to. But you never know with Tory leaders – sometimes the zeal and the traditional fear of the right flank make sensible people do stupid things. And Boris isn’t always considered to be the most sensible man ever to hold high office.
For Labour the mourning will turn to acrimony swiftly. Moderates are determined that this completely devastating result be owned by the party’s Left faction. The Left, determined to avoid the blame, intend to pin defeat on the second referendum policy that they claim was imposed by the party’s Right. In truth it is all these things and more. Jeremy Corbyn was horribly unpopular with voters and the manifesto was both poorly envisaged and poorly communicated. Long-term, Labour now has a huge problem in that the Tory Party that represents Bishop Auckland and Blyth might not limit its flirtation with the working class to Brexit. What if the Conservatives – determined to hold on in these places – actually do keep their promises? What if they do fund the NHS well and invest in policing and schools? What if they fill in pot holes and build new railways? What would the Labour Party be for – then – in the eyes of those voters upon whom they have depended for one hundred years? This is existential stuff.
Plenty of other colour from the night, of course. Unite has lost a favoured daughter in Laura Pidcock – their favoured candidate for next leader – and the Lib Dems lost their actual leader – proof that hubris is almost always the path to humiliation. But there is one overarching story to mull with your mulled wine – we are a two party democracy, 2017 and 2019 both demonstrate the continued truth of that. But what happens in a two party democracy if one of the parties has given up on winning?